I'm almost late to the party, but finally turned up my copy of Mr. India in order to put together my contribution to the Great Villain Blogathon, a celebration of all things villainous, hosted by Silver Screenings, shadowsandsatin and Speakeasy. Be sure to check out all the great villains!
Before he went to the West to make movies about England’s Virgin Queen, director Shekhar Kapur made some art house type films in India. But in the middle of all of *that*, he also made what has become one of Indian cinema’s most beloved films, the 1987 science-fiction/fantasy film Mr. India. The film itself is a festival of all that is great about commercial Hindi-language cinema, from its excellent writing (it was the last film written by the screenwriting duo Salim-Javed, whose twenty-four films together include some of the finest ever made, Sholay and Deewar to name but two), to its brilliant music (songs and score) by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. The gorgeous and talented Sridevi served as the film’s heroine, Seema – Sridevi was one of the rare women in the industry to be able to carry a film at the box office and brought her considerable talents to the role of the investigative journalist with a talent for undercover work (Her “Miss Hawa Hawai” and Charlie Chaplin routines are not to be missed). Anil Kapoor (probably best known in the west for his turn as the villainous game show host in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire) played the film’s titular “Mr. India” – his Arun Verma is a gentle, mild-mannered music teacher who gives a home to a ragtag bunch of orphans in order to give them the joys of childhood that he – also an orphan – missed out on.
The film also gave the world one of the most iconic villains in Indian cinema – three years after he freaked us all out as Mola Ram in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, veteran actor Amrish Puri created the uber-villian Mogambo, with his slightly mad eyes and his catchphrase “Mogambo khush hua” (“Mogambo is pleased”).
But before unpacking our villain, let’s have a summary of the film: the evil villain Mogambo (Amrish Puri) has a mad desire to rule all of India. He commands an unwavering loyalty from those around him, including his two henchmen Daaga (Sharat Saxena) and Teja (Ajit Vachani), who carry out the bulk of his plans, which include adulterating food and alcohol and making sure to provide weaponry to the Indian masses to make sure they pretty much destroy themselves. It’s the latter that has him ordering his henchmen to find a location on the Bombay coast through which they can smuggle arms.
The perfect location, it turns out, is a house rented by Arun, in which he and his army of orphans reside, along with their cook Calendar (Satish Kaushik). Pressure is put upon Arun to pay his rent or vacate the premises – with the baddies assuming that Arun will have no choice but to move out. Arun decides to take on a “paying guest” – his trip to the newspaper to place the ad has him meeting reporter Seema, in need of a quiet place to work, since her current landlords have – horrors – noisy children. Seema asks Arun if he has children of his own – a question to which he answers truthfully: he’s not married, but after he is, then he’ll have children. Seema is happy at the prospect of the quiet room that looks out over a balcony that fronts a garden that looks out to the seaside, and Arun – when he realizes that Seema isn’t happy about *any* children in the house, downplays their existence in order to pay his bills.
I have never been interested much in cosplay, but if I were, I'd definitely build myself one of these nifty invisibility gadgets.
In addition to wanting to rule India – or, indeed, as a means to that end – Mogambo also wants to find the mythical “formula” for invisibility, a formula developed by none other than Arun’s scientist father, who was killed when he would not give up his secret. Arun, though, manages to find the device his father created – a bracelet gadget that, when activated, allows the wearer to become invisible – except in the presence of red light. The bracelet allows Arun – that mild-mannered everyman – to become the titular Mr. India, a hero who begins by righting the social injustices instigated on a suffering population by Mogambo and his crew – and eventually allows Arun to defeat the formidable villain.
I’ve seen Mr. India many, many times, but it was in watching it in preparation for the Great Villians Blogathon that I realized that one of the greatest villains of all time actually has very little screentime (compared to other characters), especially in the film’s first half. Despite that, Mogambo is utterly unforgettable as a villain, his place firmly cemented in the Villain Hall of Fame.
There are a number of factors, I think, contributing to Mogambo’s formidable presence as an iconic villain. The film’s screenwriters, Salim-Javed, were no strangers to creating great villains and baddies of all sorts – and in addition to Mogambo, they gave Hindi cinema at least two other memorable villains: Sholay’s Gabbar Singh and Shaan’s Shakaal. Like the latter, Mogambo has a marvellous villain lair (complete with an acid pit); like the former, he has an iconic bit of dialogue: “Mogambo khush hua” (“Mogambo is pleased”).
Mogambo’s methods, too, ensure that a strong connection would be made with the film’s audience: issues of food safety, of religion – things very close to the hearts and minds of ordinary people – would make a powerful connection. Arun, too, as a seemingly unlikely hero – an ordinary guy who becomes a hero and saves the world – stands in contrast to the evil that is Mogambo, further amplifying his impact as a villain.
But first and foremost, of course, in consolidating Mogambo’s place as a villain is the presence of the great Amrish Puri, who built a career of fabulous villains and baddies and, occasionally, stern fathers. His voice, his sheer presence, his ability as an actor all ensure that Mogambo became entirely and utterly memorable. Mr. India remains a cult classic of Indian cinema to this day, and Mogambo, perhaps, Hindi cinema’s most iconic villain.
Mogambo, would, of course, be pleased.